Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses - Part 2
This is the second of three parts concerning the first chapter of Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. I am spending more time detailing this chapter than I will others simply because the points covered serve as the foundation for all the detailed historical and exegetical reasoning that follows. And if one isn’t clear where we are heading and why, the wood will be lost for the trees.
Chapter 1. From the Historical Jesus to the Jesus of Testimony … continued.
RIP form criticism and extended periods of anonymous oral transmission
All fine and good thus far, but how is one to understand the Gospels in light of this ‘eyewitness testimony’ category? Bauckham now sets forth the inevitably controversial agenda of the book:
‘In general, I shall be arguing in this book that the Gospel texts are much closer to the form in which the eyewitnesses told their stories or passed on their traditions than is commonly envisaged in current scholarship. This is what gives the Gospels their character as testimony. They embody the testimony of the eyewitnesses, not of course without editing and interpretation, but in a way that is substantially faithful to how the eyewitnesses themselves told it, since the evangelists were in more or less direct contact with eyewitnesses, not removed from them by a long process of anonymous transmission of the traditions’The upshot of this thesis, if correct, is that form criticism and its modern legacy of the supposition of long periods of anonymous oral transmission – together with various theories as to how oral tradition was transmitted (cf. e.g. Gerhardsson’s suggested parallel with folklore ‘material extending over centuries and widely different geographical areas’) – are seriously misleading. Indeed, Bauckham is right to press the question: what is one to do with the disciples and the many eyewitness participants in the events narrated in the Gospels? For all intents and purposes, in traditional models they simply vanished from the scene without shaping the developing tradition. Against this, Bauckham aims to demonstrate that there existed a ‘personal link of the Jesus tradition with particular tradents’. This is an important claim that will be necessary to return to as Bauckham’s argument is traced throughout the volume. Indeed, it needs to be remembered, against popular imagination and with the generally accepted scholarly consensus:
‘The Gospels were written within living memory of the events they recount. Mark’s Gospel was written well within the lifetime of many of the eyewitnesses, while the other three canonical Gospels were written in the period when living eyewitnesses were becoming scarce, exactly at the point in time when their testimony would perish with them were it not put in writing’This leads to the stunning conclusion: ‘[I]n imagining how the traditions reached the Gospel writers, not oral tradition but eyewitness testimony should be our principal model’!